Panthers forward third all-time in goals, not slowing down
Jaromir Jagr has amazed hockey fans around the world throughout his NHL career, but perhaps none more than his high-scoring peers, the ones who have seen the ageless right wing closer than anyone else.
Jagr, who celebrated his 44th birthday Monday, is the third-leading goal-scorer in NHL history after getting Nos. 741 and 742 on Saturday to pass Brett Hull. It’s a position Jagr is not likely to yield anytime soon.
Only Wayne Gretzky (894) and Gordie Howe (801) have scored more than Jagr, who has been doing it since 1990-91, when he and his now-famous mullet debuted in the League with Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“You could tell Jaromir was going to be a great player from the time he came to Pittsburgh as an 18-year-old,” said Lemieux, now the Penguins co-owner/chairman. “He had size, strength, speed, great reach, all the physical skills. But he also had a great work ethic and a tremendous love for the game. I don’t think anyone who saw him then is surprised by what he’s still doing. He is one of the all-time greats.”
The current crop of Jagr’s goal-scoring brethren nod their heads in agreement.
“It’s obviously pretty impressive what he’s been doing at his age,” said Dallas Stars left wing Jamie Benn, a teammate of Jagr’s with the Stars in 2012-13. “He’s still going strong. I got to play with him for half a year and I can say it doesn’t surprise me. He’s very versatile. His work ethic is top-notch, and his love for the game has got to be right up there.
“It was hard not to notice him when you were growing up. He was obviously one of the best players in this League and dominated for so many years. I think we all remember him for his mullet and playing on Pittsburgh with [Lemieux]; it was pretty special what those two did together.”
Late in the 2012-13 season, Jagr was traded to the Boston Bruins, where he played with current Stars center Tyler Seguin. Seguin said he marveled at Jagr as a young fan and has continued to do so to this day.
“You had to watch him with his hair,” Seguin said. “It was always dangling pretty quickly out there. I played with him in Boston and I was kind of amazed at his techniques and things, and the way he looks at things … you could say he’s different. But he’s different in a good way.
“It’s something you can always learn from, and you can see why he’s still playing, just how focused he is and how driven he is. I think the guy lives, sleeps, does everything in his life for hockey, so don’t be surprised if he plays for more years to come.”
Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who may be one of the few with a realistic chance of reaching Jagr’s career goal total, said he knows he’s watching a unique talent.
“When you’re a little kid you look at great players when you start playing,” Ovechkin said. “You see how he is playing right now at his age. I don’t know if somebody is going to be able to [score as many goals] soon. It’s amazing to me.”
That Jagr continues to do what he does so well for as long as he has is a testament to his conditioning and work ethic. Seguin can count himself as a witness.
“I think the only time where he’s only skating around with just his body weight is during games,” Seguin said. “Off the ice he always has some type of weights on his ankles or on his back, or he’s stickhandling with weighted sticks and pucks. He’s got a million different tricks that you’ve probably never seen before that he comes up with, and it’s pretty impressive.”
That strength is particularly impressive to Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, another member of Jagr’s huge fan club.
“I think it’s just how strong he is on the puck,” Crosby said. “The puck was on a string for him. It was really tough to get him off the puck. Even to this day, at his age, what he is doing is amazing. He still has that knack for holding onto the puck and protecting it and getting to scoring areas.
“I’m sure everyone would want to do what he does. His ability to hang onto the puck with a couple guys draped over him, he makes it look easy.”
How much longer can Jagr keep going? No one is willing to predict. But one thing that’s for sure is no one is ready to see him go.
“The NHL might have to kick him out of this League before he retires,” Benn said.